As one of the investigators who helped expose the depths of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Cpl. John Roche of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations knows just how much the trouble the Internet can get people into.
Last week, he spoke to young people about the special dangers they face during the information age during two packed lectures in the auditorium of Western Area Career & Technology Center in Chartiers Township.
Thanks to the popularity of social networking websites, Roche said the same combination of hormones, impulses and reckless behavior that have always led to poor decisions now have the potential to follow young people for the rest of their lives.
“During World War II, people found out tanks and planes were pretty good weapons,” Roche said. “But when you combine them, you get a force multiplier.
“When you combine sexting and bullying, you get a really explosive situation.”
“Sexting” is the practice of sending nude or provocative photographs of oneself to a partner or person of interest. While many people are familiar with recent sex scandals like that of former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, parents may be shocked by how common it is for teens.
Roche said more than one in five young people between the ages of 13 and 19 have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photographs or videos through the Internet or via phone message. Even more disturbing is the fact that 15 percent of teens have sent sexually suggestive pictures to people they only know online.
He used the recent movie “Catfish,” in which a man documents his brother’s cross-country trip to meet a girl online only to find out she has been made up, to emphasize the point.
“You’re not talking to a beautiful girl or a hot guy,” Roche said. “You’re talking to a perverted middle-aged man with no pants on.
“Trust me, none of the people I’ve gone and kicked in their back door have looked like Megan Fox, and I’ve seen some evidence for the ‘no pants’ theory.”
Sometimes the consequences of one bad decision can have tragic consequences. Roche told stories like that of an 18-year-old girl who committed suicide when an intimate photograph she took was spread around her high school.
“More of you are dying from cyber bullying suicides than from firearm mishaps,” Roche said.
Because of the way Pennsylvania law is structured, juveniles and young adults in relationships are treated no differently than sexual predators when it comes to possessing or distributing sexual images of those who are underage. Sometimes a photograph that was sent in confidence between a young couple ends up on Roche’s desk as part of a criminal investigation, with some charges carrying minimum sentences of as long as 27 years.
When that happens, the families of both parties are approached by police, and parents of the victim are asked to identify their child using the illicit photograph.
“That private moment was never meant to be seen by your mother,” Roche said.